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Highbury corner bombing fail to keep family apart

One of 26 people killed by V1 in Highbury Corner, selfless Kitty saved her child.

05 July, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Florence and James Donovan yards from where her grandmother was maimed

If it wasn’t for their grandmother’s quick thinking before she was killed in the Highbury
Corner bombing during World War Two, Florence and James Donovan would not be here today.

Kitty Hummerstone had been out with her new-born daughter in a pram in 1944 when a German V1 bomb crashed into the area near the junction with Compton Terrace.

The mother-of-two shoved the pram away from her before she was then engulfed in the debris
from the bomb.

The four-month-old Mary Hummerstone (later known as Mary Donovan), survived.

Young Mary Hummerstone in Bernardos

Kitty Hummerstone died later in hospital, one of the 26 people killed in the attack on June 27.

Speaking to the Tribune yards from where her grandmother was maimed, Florence said: “Mum didn’t have any injuries. I think the prams were very sturdy in those days, that might have helped her. She was so lucky. You hear about these things and it seems so unreal.”

Their war hero grandfather Alfred was on duty overseas when it happened, so Mary and her brother Peter were taken to a Dr Barnardo’s orphan centre.

Florence said: “Grandad wouldn’t really talk about it. I never really pushed him. He was lovely and he would give us anything we wanted, but they were the only things he wouldn’t talk about, the war or his first wife.”

Alfred Hummerstone

When he returned from the war Alfred was not allowed to pick up his children because he was a single man and not deemed fit to be in charge of them, Florence was told.

The Highbury resident was finally reunited with his children in 1950 after he remarried.
Florence, 48, added: “Mum talked about growing up in the home. They didn’t have anything really, it was just her and her brother.

“I think Barnardo’s was amazing for what they did for those children then. But mum needed the love of her parents.

“It’s sad to think of mum growing up in that home without a family unit. Maybe that’s why us siblings are all so close.”

Mary, who grew up around Whistler Street,had four children. She died aged 52 in 1998. Florence said: “It makes me feel a bit sad thinking about what our parents and grandparents went through. But then, on the other hand, I think the community got together. I’ve heard stories about people banding together in those hard times.

“If they didn’t have something then they just got on with it.”

Her older brother James, a council care worker, met Islington South MP Emily Thornberry last Thursday as the 75th anniversary of the bombing was marked with a ceremony at the site.

He said: “I didn’t know it was 75 years to the day and the time. I was just cycling past. I’m happy I was able to be there and mark that moment.”

Florence added: “I have always wanted to be here for a ceremony. She was my nan and it’s a miracle my mum survived.

“I worked out that next year it is on a Sunday, so we’ll definitely be here.”

More than 40,000 British civilians were killed by Luftwaffe bombing during the war, almost half of them in the capital, where more than a million houses were destroyed or damaged.

Highbury Corner has undergone several regeneration projects since it was destroyed by the V1 bomb.

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